Maui fires latest: Deadly flames overtook Hawaiian town ‘without warning’ as death toll rises to 55


Maui fires latest: Deadly flames overtook Hawaiian town 'without warning' as death toll rises to 55

Key points:

    Maui fire deaths surge to 55 and likely to go higher, governor saysPresident Biden declares major disaster on MauiMaui residents had ‘little warning’ before flames overtook town
    Live reporting by Lucia Binding

11:16:53 Flames engulf towns on Maui

Photos taken on Maui over the past few days show flames engulfing several towns on the Hawaiian island following a dry summer and strong winds from a passing hurricane, leading to widespread devastation and 55 confirmed deaths. 

10:47:01 Map of Maui fires

This graphic shows the location of fires on the island of Maui, Hawaii. 

Several thousand Hawaii residents raced to escape homes on Maui as the Lahaina fire swept across the island, killing multiple people and burning parts of a centuries-old town.

10:30:01 Donate to groups with deep local ties, philanthropy experts advise

Philanthropy experts are advising people looking to contribute to the victims of the Maui wildfire to wait before making any donations. 

Regine Webster, the Centre for Disaster Philanthropy’s Vice President, suggests waiting for up to a week until firefighters conclude their response, providing a clearer understanding of the overall necessities.

Ms Webster further recommends directing support towards organisations deeply rooted within the local community, which have profound insights into its specific needs.

Alternatively, those wishing to contribute can utilise the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe, which evaluates fundraisers for individuals who have suffered property loss or injuries. The organisation will implement supplementary verification procedures before disbursing funds, while also applying a transaction fee.

10:08:52 ‘Hotels, businesses… completely obliterated’

Hundreds of homes have been destroyed – and thousands of people are in need of temporary accommodation following the raging fire on Maui.

Sky’s Martha Kelner surveys the damage caused by wildfire in the historic town of Lahaina.

09:59:42 09:32:15 ‘Screams out of a horror movie’

Lahaina residents were told to jump into the ocean or burn to death as the wildfire flames approached the town.

09:22:18 Deadly flames overtook Hawaiian town ‘without warning’, residents say

Residents who fled a deadly Maui wildfire, which claimed 55 lives, are questioning why Hawaii’s emergency sirens didn’t alert them as flames rapidly approached their homes. Official records show that the warning system failed to trigger before the wildfire devastated the historic town of Lahaina.

Despite Hawaii’s claim of having the world’s largest outdoor public safety warning system, with about 400 sirens across the island chain, many survivors report not hearing any alerts. Some only became aware of the danger when flames or explosions were evident.

Thomas Leonard, a retired postal worker, learned of the fire through smoke as power and phone service were out. Attempting to escape, he abandoned his car due to nearby explosions and sought refuge by the shoreline.

Firefighters eventually guided Mr Leonard and others to safety through the flames. 

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Adam Weintraub confirmed that records don’t indicate siren activation; instead, the county relied on mobile phone, TV, and radio alerts, although the timing amid communication outages is uncertain.

Fuelled by dry conditions and strong winds, the wildfire surprised Maui, flattening homes and causing significant damage, marking Hawaii’s deadliest natural disaster since a 1960 tsunami.

09:12:46 Biden declares major disaster on Maui

President Biden has declared a major disaster on Maui amid the devastating wildfires. 

Travelling in Utah on Thursday, he pledged that the federal response will ensure that “anyone who’s lost a loved one, or whose home has been damaged or destroyed, is going to get help immediately”.

Mr Biden promised to streamline requests for assistance and said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was “surging emergency personnel” on the island. 

09:11:05 Majestic banyan tree in heart of fire-scorched Lahaina chronicles 150 years of history

For generations, Lahaina town’s historic Front Street found solace under the grand banyan tree, its lush branches providing shelter from the Hawaiian sun. This iconic tree, standing over 60 feet tall with sprawling trunks, embodied the essence of the oceanside community.

Now, the banyan’s survival mirrors the uncertainty of the town, scarred by a devastating fire that erased its historical significance. For 150 years, this colossal tree offered shade during community events and art fairs, symbolising Lahaina’s identity as “Lele”, the Hawaiian term for “relentless sun”, according to Associated Press. 

Each ring in its trunk captures history, having been planted in 1873 from India to honour the Protestant mission’s 50th anniversary. Amid collective mourning, a user named HawaiiDelilah on X (formerly Twitter) lamented the potential loss while affirming the spirit to rebuild.

Despite the charred branches, Tiffany Kidder Winn found hope in the banyan’s resilience during her assessment of the damage. This poignant symbol of endurance, like the banyan under which Buddha found enlightenment, continues to embody strength amid adversity.

“It’s burned, but I looked at the trunk and the roots and I think it’s going to make it,” she said. “It was kind of this diamond in the rough of hope.”

It is believed that the Buddha found enlightenment while sitting under a banyan tree, which is a kind of fig. 

09:05:05 Death toll of Maui fires rises to 55

Maui County confirmed on Thursday night that the death toll has risen to 55.

In a statement issued at 9:15pm, authorities reported a two-person increase in the overall number of fatalities attributed to the Lahaina, Pulehu, and Upcountry fires. 

The Lahaina fire, the statement noted, is still active. 

Addressing a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said that efforts are ongoing to locate and identify individuals who lost their lives during the rapid spread of the fire through Lahaina. 

“For those whose homes remain intact, you may return once we have completed the recovery of those who have perished,” he urged. 

“Kindly allow us to carry out this procedure.”

To aid in the process, search and rescue teams from California and Washington state, equipped with disaster expertise including using dogs to find human remains, have been dispatched to Maui, as confirmed by officials. 

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier appealed for patience, prayers, and persistence. 

“We must honour the fact that our dear ones rest within that terrain, and we must extract them,” he emphasised, adding that his officers are trained to catch “bad guys” and not specifically to pull bodies from buildings.

In light of the ongoing dangers, Fire Chief Brad Ventura cautioned against venturing into the burn zone, where the risk remains high. He noted instances of individuals being injured by collapsing telephone poles.

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